Biopharma’s Bare Pipeline

Promising future drugs isn’t the challenge for the industry, says a new Korn Ferry report.



On the surface, the future of the biopharmaceutical industry looks quite good. There are several promising therapies to combat Alzheimer’s disease and various forms of cancer. At the same time, whole new markets in Europe and Asia are opening for the industry. Already selling nearly $200 billion worth of treatments worldwide, biopharma could grow 10 percent or more a year for the next five years, estimate analysts and industry executives.

There’s only one problem: the industry may not have enough skilled people to handle the increased science or manufacturing demands. The kind of technical know-how to develop and manufacture complex biopharma drugs is already in short supply. Rarer still are those experts who also possess leadership skills, including building effective teams and developing others, says Chantal Williams, managing consultant for Korn Ferry Futurestep’s Life Sciences, EMEA practice and co-author of a new report, “Biopharma blockbusters.” (Download the full report below). “Technology alone will not solve all the complexities within the biopharma production process, the intricacies of quality assurance, or managing a supply chain for products,” she says.

Industry executives around the world are deeply concerned. The report asked a number of them what their top challenge was, and they all said the same thing: talent. In the report, David Clark, head of global technical operations at AstraZeneca/MedImmune, says that the talent (or lack thereof) will make managing growth over the next five to 10 years difficult.

Among the most difficult roles to fill are in quality assurance, or QA, because of the complexity and precision of biopharma manufacturing. QA professionals shoulder huge responsibilities because biopharma firms have to ensure the quality and consistency of not only the end products but also the entire production process. It isn’t surprising, Williams says, that QA professionals are in high demand.

Biopharma executives admit they must rethink their strategies for talent development to increase the pool of internal candidates. The executives Williams talked to also emphasized the need to rotate people through various jobs to avoid what one executive called “silo growth.” More rounded talent development could expose people to multiple areas and job functions, while also fostering leadership skills.

Yet, most importantly, biopharma companies must do a better job of recruiting from outside the sector, according to the report. Biopharma firms have often looked to their corporate cousins that manufacture conventional drugs, but there are significant differences in technical skills to bridge, particularly for manufacturing and quality assurance roles. Interestingly, production people with experience at breweries or other food processing firms can bring knowledge analogous to the organic nature of biopharmaceuticals. In addition, consumer goods and automotive leaders bring competencies in dealing with fast growth and innovation.

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